And the men who hold high places, Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality, Closer to the heart”…
Closer to the Heart; Writer(s): Geddy Lee, Peter Talbot, Neil Peart, Neval Abou Nadar, Alex Lifeson, Richard Ziegler
Copyright: Unichappell Music Inc., Core Music Publishing
Poverty and I have met.
Professionally, I have a history with the YWCA Niagara Region, providing administration support, I am the Executive Assistant, and as a member of the management team I work within our King Street emergency shelter program building. The YWCA is the largest provider of Emergency shelter in the Niagara Region and a recognized expert among funders and community partners on the issues of poverty and homelessness. I see poverty’s impact on women and their families every day.
Personally, a long time ago, my marriage broke down and I was faced with raising two children, on my own and at the time unemployed. You do not know how much courage it takes a person to make that call to apply for social assistance, until you have to do it yourself.
Like some of the women and families that come to the YWCA, in poverty, I was not alone. I was fortunate enough to have a strong supportive network of family, friends and a terrific caseworker – I know this is not always the case. I was lucky, and leaned on them a lot during this time.
Call it fate, 18 years ago I found my way to a YWCA pre-employment program that offered co-op placements and I found myself working in the office of a local para-legal – what I thought was my new career dream job. While there I was mentored in all things administratively by Sandy, she shared everything she knew with me and I was grateful for her taking me under her wing. I hoped one day, I could do the same for someone.
My personal moment of truth came, when a mother with two young children came into the office – late on rent, with legal action pending to talk to my boss….I can still see the two children eating the mints set out on the little reception table like it was the first time the ate in days. (insert sound of screeching brakes) STOP. This is not my future line of work.
Fate intervened when I extended a letter of congratulation to the new Executive Director of the YWCA, and my
past Employment Coach – we met for lunch and after talking, I was offered the position of front receptionist in 1995.
I remember debating on what to do, take the new job with the YW or stay in the para-legal field, until Arlee, my oldest child put it simply, do what will make you happy Mom. If she only knew then, the power of those words. Follow your passion, things will fall into place.
Through those first years at the YWCA, it was difficult financially. I was still on social assistance and working a fulltime job. I am thankful to my parents who babysat for me when the girls got home from school so I could work – I would have never been able to afford the costs of childcare for two children for after school care.
There was a moment in time back then, that when I remember feels like yesterday. Emilee my youngest was gathering some of her favourite toys and stuffed animals and putting them in a box – so curious I asked her why – she wanted to give them to the poor children she’d heard about that stay at the YWCA – because they need toys. I remember thinking, you are the poor children – I was grateful she didn’t realize this. She probably still thinks I hate the idea of whales in captivity (which I do) – and not that I couldn’t swing the expense of $50.00 to send two children on a school trip to Marineland too. So while their friends spent a day at Marineland, I bought them each a small toy and we spent the day together.
Working in a women’s organization had it’s benefits – enter a new mentor, a woman that taught me what it was like to lead quietly, through example, that you could discuss anything if it came from the heart and that as women we need to support and raise each other up – she stepped in during a difficult time in the history of the organization and she is one person that professionally I work hard to emulate – Kitty Francis.
Not only did the organization come through the difficulty stronger, so did I. No longer on social assistance, the YWCA provided me a very modest income for which I didn’t qualify for assistance any longer – but I unfortunately lost the benefits coverage that had been provided – and my employment didn’t. Sometimes a simple prescriptions could set you back a bit. Two steps forward, one step back.
Again, I was lucky working for the YWCA, during a time that we ran the summer camps, which enabled me to send my children to camp at minimal to no cost at all – an experience I could never have given my children not to mention afford otherwise. Family was important to then Executive Director, Milica Kovacevich. She not only taught me that it was important to keep a sense of family within the organization – but was instrumental in the direction of the organization into providing emergency shelter services.
Things change quickly in the non-profit sector, and again the organization experienced financial instability – to the point of near closure, except for the efforts of a passionate board of directors and supportive community members. Enter two ladies that stand out for me, professionally as they worked tirelessly to bring the organization back to life and in so doing helped me transition into the Executive Assistant I am today. Nancy Iannizzi and Diane Marino taught me kind words, especially in times of trouble or self-doubt are invaluable. I know for a fact I would not be at the YWCA, when everyone else was polishing their resumes, I stayed committed to the organization and to them – they were powerful leaders. I knew then that I would try very hard to provide that voice of comfort and support – when I believe in someone, as they did for me. it is important for everyone to have a calm influence within the storm – I try to emulate their example every day, sometimes successfully. Always remember to breathe.
Over time, not only did things change quickly at work, but unexpectedly on the home front too, when I met Steve, and we became a family. Truth be told, he supported us financially through the girls growing years – merging our incomes. For the first time I was financially secure.
Today, I am ever so aware of even the simplest of expenses that many people take for granted are still unattainable for some – too many. Having lived this reality, I, to this day, weigh the value of my purchases, rarely pay full price for anything, and still need to be encouraged to purchase something for myself. I also realize that the problem of poverty and homelessness will not be solved with just money – it is so much more complex – that is why I chose to highlight the emotional support of my family, friends and the women who were an important part of my earlier journey. They gave me something that money alone at that time wouldn’t have – Hope.
Here at the YWCA, under the leadership of Elisabeth Zimmermann, I have learned that it is important to keep that human aspect while looking at tackling the complex issues around poverty and homelessness. We have a team of dedicated, caring women – in all departments that in some way I am sure have been personally touched or inspired to help the women and families in our community that need – Hope.
May we all continue to work together …. to mold a new reality, closer to the heart.